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What is SmartThings? Everything you need to know

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Samsung wants to help you organise your smart home with SmartThings. We look at how it works, what it does and more

There’s one big problem with our new-fangled smart homes. You can easily end up with a range of products from different manufacturers, all requiring different apps, hubs and resources. Buy into smart lighting, smart TV, smart heating, multi-room audio, security and smart appliances, and you can find yourself managing five or more different systems in your house. Suddenly smart doesn’t seem quite as smart as it ought to.

SmartThings is Samsung’s attempt to sort the whole mess out, through one unifying smart home platform that brings all your appliances together. With SmartThings they can talk to each other, work with the same controls and sensors and be managed from just one central app. Read on to find out more.

How does SmartThings work?

In a way, SmartThings is Samsung’s equivalent to Apple’s HomeKit or Google’s Home platform, connecting all your different smart home products in one ecosystem with a single app controlling them.

With SmartThings, you can group appliances together in rooms, schedule lights or sockets to come on or off at certain times, and set up routines that control how a whole bunch of devices work. For example, you could have lights and heating turn off when you leave the house but come on again when you get home.

As SmartThings is connected to its services in the cloud, you can monitor and control your smart home even when you’re not in it; handy if you want to get the house warm for later or check you didn’t leave the back door open while at work.

There are some important differences, though. For one thing, SmartThings has its own hardware hub, which acts as the brains of your smart home operation. It connects to your router and also your smart lighting, heating, security and entertainment systems, not to mention any sensors and switches you have in place. It’ll work with devices that connect via Wi-Fi as well as devices that connect via the Zigbee and Z-Wave wireless network protocols.

Samsung also makes its own SmartThings devices and certifies a wide range of other products as ‘Works with SmartThings’, meaning they should fit right into your smart home.

There’s a stand-alone SmartThings Hub (roughly £80) or you can buy a starter kit with switches, sensors and a smart power outlet for around £30 more. In addition, Samsung manufacturers its own mesh router with a built-in SmartThings Hub – an idea that makes a lot of sense if you don’t want numerous boxes littering your home.

Once a Hub’s in place, powered up and connected to your network, all you need is some SmartThings devices and the SmartThings app.

What can you do with the SmartThings app?

You can do the obvious stuff we talked about above, but you can also set-up more complex routines to get your lighting and heating working together, or define scenes that dim the lights, turn up the thermostat and turn on the TV ready for an evening Netflix binge.

You can also program what happens when a door opens or a presence or motion sensor trips, enabling you to get a notification or set off a lighting routine. It’s an incredibly flexible and powerful system.

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What products does SmartThings support?

Obviously, Samsung has its own smart TVs, washing machines and robot vacuum cleaners, though not all necessarily work with the SmartThings platform. Samsung also produces a range of SmartThings switches, sensors and power outlets. However, the ‘Works with SmartThings’ initiative means that loads of products from other manufacturers will work too.

These include smart bulbs from the Philips Hue and Ikea Tradfri lines along with Innr, Osram, Belkin and more. Bose SoundTouch speakers are supported, along with Honeywell and Netatmo smart thermostats, Yale smart locks and cameras from Ring and Arlo.

You don’t need a Samsung phone or tablet, as the apps are available for iOS and Android. There are also apps for Apple and Garmin watches.

Read next: The best smart lighting: the best smart bulbs and lighting systems for a smarter home

Does SmartThings work with voice assistants?

If you want, you can control your whole SmartThings setup and trigger scenes and routines through either Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. And if you do have a Samsung phone and actually use Bixby, you can use that to control your SmartThings too.

Are there any limitations?

As with most smart home systems, you have to factor distance in when positioning devices. If devices don’t connect over Wi-Fi – which itself could be a problem if coverage isn’t ideal in your home – then they’ll connect over Z-Wave or Zigbee. Both use a mesh network that depends on devices in proximity relaying messages back and forth.

More annoyingly, you still need some product-specific hubs to control certain devices using SmartThings. For instance, SmartThings only officially supports Philips Hue bulbs and lighting if you keep the Hue bridge connected, meaning you have to have two small, square boxes permanently attached to your router. Unofficially, you can connect a Hue bulb direct to the SmartThings hub, but it isn’t recommended if you want a stable setup.

On the upside, there is a very active SmartThings community out there, where you can get a lot of help plus some workarounds to any annoyances you might have. The app is a good, easy-to-use system, so these should hopefully be few and far between.

What do you need to get started?

Looking to kick off your SmartThing home? Begin with the following:

1. Samsung SmartThings Hub

Price: £80 | Buy now from Amazon

Samsung’s SmartThings Hub is the centre of your smart home, connecting a growing range of lighting, heating and security products, not to mention selected Samsung smart TVs and home appliances and Bose SoundTouch speakers. Samsung’s app makes adding, managing and controlling devices easy, and you can add voice control by hooking it up to a Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot.

2. Samsung SmartThings Starter Kit

Price: £136 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re looking to get deeper into home automation, Samsung’s SmartThings kit gives you everything you need to get started. It not only includes the SmartThings hub but a motion sensor, two multi-purpose sensors and a SmartThings power outlet. Add a few bulbs and a smart thermostat and you can really get your smart home going.

3. Innr Bulbs

Price: from £20 | Buy now from Amazon

While you can use Hue bulbs in a SmartThings setup, they’re only officially supported through a Hue bridge. Innr’s bulbs are slightly cheaper and connect directly to the SmartThings Hub. Once in place, you can control them through the SmartThings app or through voice commands with Google Assistant or Alexa. They come in B22 bayonet, E27 screw and GU10 varieties and in standard white, tunable white and colour variations, and are hard to beat as a wallet-friendly lighting option.

4. Netatmo Smart Thermostat

Price: £109 | Buy now from Amazon

Netatmo’s Smart Thermostat is certified to work with SmartThings, and you can control it directly from the SmartThings app, setting your heating to switch on and off on schedule, or in response to events like the front door being opened. You can even integrate thermostat controls into other routines. For more control you can hook up Smart Radiator Valves and control your home’s heating room by room. Installation takes less than an hour, and the only real drawback is that it won’t control your hot water, so it’s better for homes with a combi-boiler than a hot water tank.

5. Samsung SmartThings Multi-Purpose Sensor

Price: £24 | Buy now from Amazon

Samsung also makes motion and water leak sensors for SmartThings, but its Multi-Purpose sensor is a particularly clever bit of kit. Not only can it function as a door and window sensor, so that you can set notifications or routines to kick in if a door or window is opened or closed, but it also includes a vibration sensor and a temperature sensor, ideal for spotting knocks on the door or sending messages to your smart thermostat.

6. Bose SoundTouch 20

Price: £250 | Buy now from Amazon

Bose’s SoundTouch speakers are all SmartThings-ready, starting with the SoundTouch 10 at around £150. They stream music from Spotify and Deezer over Wi-Fi or from your smartphone directly over BlueTooth, but you can automate them using SmartThings to turn on in the morning when you wake up or the evening when you’re back from work. You can also integrate them into routines, turning down the lights and turning on the SoundTouch when it’s time to chill out with your favourite tracks.

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